Section 1: Opening Prayer
Through baptism God has added your name to the roll of all our ancestors in faith. You are a part of the priesthood we share in Christ Jesus. You have not been called in vain. Therefore, take up your cross and follow Jesus through the prairies and grasslands, in the desert wilderness, along the freeways and back alleys of suburb and city. You belong now to God, sent to witness for Christ before all the world. Amen.
Section 2: Baptism in Luther’s Small Catechism
In his Small Catechism, Martin Luther writes that:
What does Baptism give or profit? It works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare. In other words, baptism’s a pretty big deal. Baptism connects us with God’s forgiveness, separates us from the effects of sin, death, and the devil, and unites us with the promises of God’s Kingdom at work now and forever into eternity. That’s pretty big.
Baptism is so important to our faith that we’re going to look at it from two different perspectives. In this post, we’ll look at baptism through the promises of Scripture and how we see that work of forgiveness and connection that occurs through baptism. In the next post, we’ll talk about baptism’s connection of water and word that leads us through death and into life.
Section 3: Baptism in Scripture
In Jesus’ baptism, we see that baptism serves as an adoption. We receive the spirit of God, which reminds us that we were created in God’s image. We hear the words of God that tell us we’re beloved. We receive the authority from God to become the hands and feet that work alongside God’s action in the world. In the midst of this all, we see that God works through other people, whether John the Baptist or our pastor, to baptize us. Baptism brings us into a community gathered around us to support us in that baptism.
At Pentecost, we see a special experience of baptism, where the Holy Spirit endows people with the special ability to speak different languages so they could tell the story of Jesus to anyone who might ask. Now, this doesn’t mean that all of us will get this kind of gift, though some people still experience that today. What it does mean is that baptism includes a purpose for each of us. As God’s children, we’re also sent to tell the story of God, to proclaim the Gospel that God’s forgiven all our sins and embraced us into the family of Jesus, called us into the Kingdom of God. That’s not something we’re supposed to keep to ourselves, but to share it widely so that all people might know they’re loved by God.
In the story of the Ethiopian Eunuch, we see that there are no barriers to baptism for those who seek it. After hearing the story of God’s promise through the prophets and experience of God’s person in Jesus, this person asks what might prevent him from being baptized. Phillip, a disciple of Jesus, baptizes him immediately in water near the road. There’s no barrier to baptism for those who seek God’s work in their lives.
At various points in the New Testament, we hear that entire families were baptized at once. Acts 10 and 16, as well as 1 Corinthians 1, each speak to this. One thing that this tells us is that not even age is a barrier to baptism. This is why Lutherans baptize babies. We trust that God’s promise is for us, no matter how old we are. We hear throughout the Bible that God’s care extends not just to adults, but to the innocent, to the meek, to the young, to all people. Baptism is for those who need it. No restrictions.
Section 4: What Does This Mean?
This helps us to see that baptism serves more than just one purpose in our life. As Luther says, it works God’s forgiveness in us, connects us with God’s work, and frees us from the consequences of sin. Baptism opens to us the fullness of life with God. This doesn’t mean we can’t experience God without baptism, for surely we see God in a friend’s smile, in sunsets over the Grand Canyon, and in signs of justice and peace throughout the world. What baptism does is invite us into that fullness through the life of God’s chosen vessel for justice and peace, the church.
In the life of the church, baptism traditionally served as an entrance rite. In other words, God works through baptism to unite us not only to God’s purpose generally, but to the tangible community of the church. This meant that fullness of church life came after participation in baptism, which is why many churches require baptism prior to taking communion, serving in leadership roles, and other central pieces of church life.
Why is this so important? Baptism in our tradition is viewed as a type of death and resurrection. Water serves not only to to cleanse people, but can become deadly. Ask someone who can’t swim what it’s like to fall in water, or someone who’s lived through a flood or hurricane what that rising water meant to their safety. Baptism is an image that we die to sin and rise again to new life with Christ Jesus. That’s why Paul says that baptism is a sign that we “we were united together in a death like Jesus’, so we will also be united together in a resurrection like his.” In other words, baptism becomes even more than a washing, an entrance rite, or a commissioning. It’s a new birth, where the stuff that leads to death in us dies, and we begin to live the life of Jesus together.
What does this mean? No matter when you were baptized, it meant that God chose to love you no matter what. That God chose to forgive your sins. That God chose to give you the Holy Spirit, making you God’s child and God’s hands and voice in this world. It means that all the stuff that once tied you to sin and death is now overcome by the waters and words that tie you forever to God. We’ll explore that water and word dynamic in the next lesson.
Section 5: Closing Prayer
Gracious Lord, through water and the Spirit you have made these people your own. You forgave them all their sins and brought them to newness of life. Continue to strengthen them with the Holy Spirit, and daily increase in them your gifts of grace: the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord, the spirit of joy in your presence; through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord. Amen.
Opening and Closing Prayers from Sundays and Seasons.com. Copyright 2016 Augsburg Fortress. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission under Augsburg Fortress Liturgies Annual License #25165.